PEN America is inviting submissions for a national student essay competition about the role of free expression in today’s world. If you’re in high school or college, PEN America wants to know what you think about the threats to this crucial right! Essays will be judged for their originality, clarity of thought, and relevance to free expression by experts at PEN America and prominent guest judges. Winning essays will be published on PEN America’s website, and promoted on our social media channels. We are very pleased to offer a total of $6,500 in prizes to the competition winners.
For our second year of the Free Expression Essay Competition, PEN America invites students to write essays on any issue related to free expression in the U.S. or abroad, at a length of 1,000 words for both the high school and college competition levels.
High school-level submissions are open to students ages 15-17; and college-level submissions are open to students ages 18-23. Applicants must be residing in the United States and provide a U.S. mailing address. Please enter the competition level based on your age at the time of submission. Current enrollment in school is not required to enter. If you have any questions about your eligibility, please do not hesitate to contact email@example.com with ‘Essay Competition’ in the subject line.
We ask that you please submit your essay as a PDF or Word document through our online application portal on Submittable. On Submittable, you will be prompted to create a free account in order to access the entry submission form and upload your materials. All submissions must be received on or before March 1st at 11:59pm ET.
The submission window will close on March 1, 2023. Winners will be announced in May 2023.
From school board meetings to statehouses, and foreign newsrooms to digital spaces — there are threats to free expression in societies around the world. PEN America wants to know: what do you think about free expression? Why is it important? How can it change the world?
Submit an original essay answering the questions above for a chance to be recognized by experts in the field, rewarded with a prize and share your views to educate others. You might consider the following areas of focus:
- What does “free expression” mean to you?
- Why does free expression matter in a democracy?
- Why is it important to have free speech for all, regardless of lines of difference?
- How does hate impede free expression? And how can free expression fight hate?
- What do you think about free expression online? Is it the same or different from other public arenas for discourse?
- Are bans on certain books in schools or libraries a free expression issue? Are there different considerations for school libraries and public libraries? Should there be limits on content for students? What harm might book bans in schools or libraries do?
- Is there a way to reconcile limits on information with free expression protections? Are there reasonable limits society should impose to curb efforts to confuse and misinform the public?
- How safe is freedom of the press in the U.S. today? What are some current threats to this right?
- What Supreme Court ruling related to free expression in the U.S. is most vital to safeguarding the future of our democracy?
- Why is free expression protected as an international human right? What efforts are needed to defend it?
Statement on plagiarism: The PEN America Free Expression Essay Competition maintains a zero tolerance policy for submissions that have been plagiarized, including submissions that fail to incorporate proper citations. Those who submit an essay that is not entirely their own will be disqualified from the Free Expression Essay Competition without warning. PEN America reserves the right to investigate whether a submission has been plagiarized. Should your essay require citations, you may use any citation system you prefer (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.), as long as your citation style is consistent throughout your essay.
For each competition level, we will honor 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. The top three college-level essayists will receive $2,000, $1,500, and $1,000 respectively; and the top three high school-level essayists will receive $1,500, $1,000, and $500 respectively.